Martinsville, or There and Back Again is the best way to describe Ryan Blaney’s evening in the Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 on Wednesday night.
The Team Penske youngster started on the pole and finished second at NASCAR’s oldest track, but the pathway there wasn’t quite so linear.
The race started on a completely green racetrack under sunny conditions but concluded under the lights following the passage of a cold front. Without any practice time, there were considerable comers and goers throughout the evening, Blaney himself falling from the front row to one lap down by the lap 60 competition caution.
“We started off really bad,” Blaney said after the race. “We went from starting on the pole to being a lap down in 60 laps. That’s kind of tough to do. We found a way to do that. We already dug ourselves a hole early.”
Blaney earned the free pass during a caution on lap 114 for Timmy Hill stalling on pit road. While the Todd Gordon-led team made a series of adjustments, the track taking rubber and becoming less abrasive was the most beneficial development for the No. 12 team.
“After the first pit stop, we got our car a lot better, a lot better,” Blaney said. “I think just the green racetrack didn’t really go well with what we had or something. We really wore our tires out. I had to run the top a lot, was getting passed. I don’t think that helped.
“After that I felt more competitive. We got the Lucky Dog there right before the first stage end. After that we drove all the way up to second. We had a great long-run car. That was great.”
Blaney showed his strength during the third stage, leading 34 of the first 57 laps and appearing poised to win his first race of the season, something he had come close to doing on several occasions throughout the spring.
Blaney then suffered a pit road penalty while leading for a crew member over the wall too soon during the lap 283 caution. Blaney worked his way back to the front, even around Logano, but wasn’t able to catch Martin Truex Jr, who won by 4.705 seconds.
“To be able to get the lead there at the start of the third stage, kind of biding our time, taking care of our stuff. Caution came out. We got a penalty on pit road. That set us all the way back again with not a lot of laps to go,” Blaney said. “We had 170 to go. Last restart we started ninth. (Truex) just got away from me. I couldn’t run him down. By the time I got to second, he was gone. My stuff was a little worn out having to pass a lot of cars.”
All told, it’s the continuation of a solid start to the season that has included five top-10s in 11 races with a chance to have won at least half of them. Blaney hasn’t won yet, but he’s confident that they’re close.
“Very close,” Blaney said. “I mean, I thought it was going to be tonight. You keep bringing speed like this every weekend, eventually you’re going to find a little bit more and be able to win the race. We just got to keep doing what we’ve been doing. I think it’s going to come soon, we just got to keep working really hard.”
RYAN BLANEY ‘VERY CLOSE’ TO FIRST WIN OF 2020 AFTER MARTINSVILLE RUNNER-UP